Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Chapter One

The Rogue’s File
  A puff of yellow smoke, a lightening flash, a sizzle, pop, crack, and then a boom
A cloud of disjointed words and blurred images burst into the column of blue screen light that surrounds Reve.  He’s inside his stone colonnade, housed on the top floor of his seven thousand seven hundred and seventy-seven floor private museum, dedicated to the archeology of the planet. 
He’s hunkered over a desktop of screens, perched on two orange eyed gryphons, the size of hellhounds. The long stone room, with mullioned windows along the ramparts, is filled with the artifacts of other times.  
Reve is under house arrest, but only because he’s been too busy searching for this particular file to make his escape.  
He squints, devilishly handsome, in the fog of effigies around him.  Random words and misty images, drift into clumps.  He’s trying to make sense of them.  He has only a few seconds to break the code on this file, labeled Rogue Dreamer, before it self combusts.  A screen drone has already reported the security breach to President Bob, but Reve plans to be long gone before anyone arrives to ask questions.  
This file will confirm it, he thinks, his suspicion that if Rose is not the Gold Stone Girl, the Rogue dreamer must be. It’s the only way it all makes sense. It explains the feelings he’s had ever since he met her, the confidence that anything is possible. 
He can remember the buoyant feelings he had with the other dreamers, with Sada, Lida, Uda, and little Hoda, but never before has he felt so joyful. No, that’s not the word, but he’s not exactly sure what the feeling is. Perhaps it’s because he’s never felt quite this way before, driven to do something that has meaning. Never has he known anyone as unpredictable as this Rogue.  What she might be like, a dreamer not raised in his mother’s system, is impossible for him to imagine.  
Waves of emotion roll over him when he remembers being with her, this girl of his dreams.  He hardens at the memory of mating with her, of their mutual satisfaction. His heart kicks at his ribs, and his stomach drops, the way it does when he reenters Blinkin’s atmosphere from space, or when he rides the building climber outside, set on express, none of it equal to the power he felt bringing the Rogue to fulfillment.  He’d never done that before, given a female pleasure.  All the other Gold Stone girls had been broken, and the breeders were all cut.  
A dreamer, not raised by his mother, is a wondrous and mysterious creature, he’s decided. She’s all he’s been able to think about, she’s what fuels his every move. He wants to be worthy of her, though he’s not quite sure what is meant by the word. Thoughts of the rogue, as his match, as a contest, drive him on. He feels, for the first time in hundreds of thousands of cycles, he feels, yes, hopeful.  
If she’s the one, then what cannot they accomplish together?  Maybe, he thinks, as treason daily recasts itself as activism, just maybe, they can topple his mother, and dream another way.  Together, he and this rogue, they might do anything.  They might save the world and remake it anew.  
Reve has no idea that these plans he’s making for the future are rudimentary dreams.  He just knows that the more he believes his ideas are possible, the more possible they seem.
It’s taken Reve several suns, and much sucking up, to regain his mother’s confidence, and even now their meetings are only cordial.  The Night Mare is wrapped up in her web of dreams, slung in a miasma of Drifter scent.  She gives him face time, now and then, usually on the screens.  Exchanges in which she offers him slurred and random responses, to conversations they’re not having.  Reve can see that his mother’s a mess, and that her inability to command the ship, means that the whole world’s in for a wreck.
The Drifters tell him that she’s demented.  He wonders what that means.  

Aging has been illegal in Winkin City, until just recently.  Now the Night Mare’s age, she will admit to one million thirty, is the new twenty, by official decree.  Skin wrinkling has become the latest craze.  Reve’s mother is now referring to herself as the Dream Weaver, as a marketing ploy, for her new line of synthetic dreams. Pastel pulp, guaranteed to blow your mind.  Now, instead of the daily med patch, soap opera plastic dreaming is required.  Humans fled the city in droves once they’d tried them. The ones who didn’t make it out, are now all addicted to sugar coated nightmares, too deluded to care what happens in the everyday.  
Everything in Winkin City is changing more rapidly than the planet is shrinking.  President Bob has assumed the helm, as Decider in Chief, and he’s already begun a new war.  
The lazy thoughtless way to stimulate a sluggish economy, Reve thinks with ire.  
To finance this offensive effort, Bob’s changing a million year demographic, and he’s letting the monster lobby rise.  As a result, the food chain is shifting, and the humans left dreaming in Winkin City, may soon lose their legislative struggle, not to be reclassified as meat. 
Reve swipes an impatient hand through the file’s information. Stacks of words shift places in the air around him.  He fans another section, and a swarm of words turns upside down. Still there’s no clarity to the narrative.  Reve’s searching for a pattern, for a key to make meaning out of the raw data, hanging in the air around him.  Breaking this code is all that keeps him from knowing everything that there is to know about the Rogue dreamer.  
Soon, Reve thinks, he’ll know her name.  He considers this thought with a smile.  Something that happens now whenever Reve thinks of the Rogue dreamer.  He’s been imagining scenarios of their next meeting. He sees himself holding the Rogue in his arms, and mating with her, unhurried, and without an audience. He doesn’t imagine intimate conversations. Nor does he understand that shared decision making, means that she has a say.  All of these things will occur to him the hard way, but for the moment, his vision of true love is mostly physical. 
What is your name?” He says aloud. 
He pushes the sections of random words around, this way, and then that, puzzling the anagrams to be found, the task seeming insurmountable.  Which are the right words to choose? Then suddenly, Bob, ratty-Bob, pops into Lord Nightmare’s head.  
Lazy and mean spirited, are the words to best describe him, Reve thinks.  Bob calls himself, a man of ideas, but in reality, 
“He’s a blamer and a credit whore,” Reve mutters, of his mother’s new second in command.  
Then Reve notices that Bob logged this file himself.  This is a file Bob didn’t trust to someone else.  
Reve ponders this, and the key to unlocking the file comes to him with crystal clarity.  Bob would have taken the easiest way out.  Rats are lazy.  They make shortcuts.  At least that’s been Reve’s experience of rats.  There have always been rodents scurrying around his mother.  
He swipes at the words midair, till the end is now a beginning.  The file explodes open around him, silently, in a plume of bright white light.  The words and effigies order themselves into a visual story, slow moving, chronological.  
He sees the rogue huddled at the base of the rickety Bridge of Tears, and then again at the screen, on the border of the breederhood, her face spattered in blood.  He stops the action, by reaching out to tap an image of the Rogue in the girl registry office, alongside two Off-gridders and, Bob, he notes with surprise.
“Mina.”  Reve says her name aloud, and over dozens of times in succession, now that he’s learned it.  Even the sound of it makes him smile.  
Reve lingers over an aerial image of the Bubbas’ homestead in the Off-grid.  He reads Bob’s notes on the best ways to attack it.  He pulls three-dimensional footage of Bubba and Dee-Dee towards him, searching for clues to Mina in their faces.    
They’re Off-gridders!  Reve thinks with mounting excitement.  That explains Mina’s forthrightness, she was raised in the Off-grid.  There’s not much tolerance for bullshit in the Off-grid.  Either you can survive there, or you die, he thinks, as one who’s certain he could accomplish the thing with ease.  
Unlike most in Winkin City, where the Off-grid is reviled by even the walkway sweepers, Reve has always held a deep fascination for all things Off-grid.  That rugged wild frontier, where a man is tested by the planet, and not his mother, to survive.  
Now that the file is open, Reve’s disappointed by its lack of content.  There’s very little by way of official screen captures of Mina, or her family.  What footage there is was all gathered by the paps, on the day Mina was registered, and in quarantine, after her Surrender.  It’s much less information than would be available on any citizen, who lived their life in Winkin City.  
Reve waves the Surrender footage to him.  He watches Mina pace the quarantine hall.  He’s wondering what she’s thinking when she examines the walls and the floors?  He watches her intake interview with Mike, and he notices how the aged civil servant smiles at her.  Then she’s laughing with paps, and speaking their language, something he thought only Frederick took the time to do.  
Then Reve sees himself, mating with Mina on the psychophant’s ledge.  He feels a sudden pit in his stomach. He doesn’t know what to call this fire in his belly, so he snarls instead. Then he claws the images right out of the official record, sparks flying, security lights flashing, warning bells clanging.
“This was private!”  Reve shouts.  
He’s mated with so many on the screens without concern, but this, he thinks, this time with Mina was different, it was special. He wonders why it matters.  Maybe, he thinks, it’s how vulnerable he was.    
Reve wafts the image of Mina’s face closer, heedless of the alarms, the bells and whistles, sounding all around him now.  He examines her; the mass of black curls, the soft roses in golden brown cheeks, her almond shaped eyes, amber dipped in stardust.  He draws his finger from the rosebud mouth, down to the dimple in her chin.  He smiles, wishing he knew her better, wishing he hadn’t wasted so much time.  He kisses the image gently on the lips.    
“I don’t know the words.”  
He doesn’t know the words, I’m sorry, because he’s never used them.  
“I’m guilty.”  He says instead, and he knows this to be true, even though it’s not quite what he meant to say. He’s thinking of the last time he spoke to her, and dream junkie is what he called her.  It was not a nice thing to say.  
“I want to be different.” He says to the images looping around him. 
He’s been horrific all of his life.  What it might mean to be other than that, he’s not really sure.  But even this small thought of the change he will attempt, rallies in him a never before felt vigor, and a renewed interest in life.  
He plans to leave the city, and to forgo all of his power.  He plans to sever himself from his mother completely, and to live as a human in the Off-grid.  
That it will be a wandering in the desert, while the planet exacts her penance from him, he does not anticipate, but walkabout he will.

Reve is about to close the file of Mina’s quarantine, when he sees Frederick Bogeyman sitting on her quarantine hall bed, at its end.   
“What are you doing with my rogue?”   He asks the image of Frederick, who’s chatting with Mina, a cigar in his filthy hand.  
The primal animal in Reve rises with a growl.  
“Are they flirting?”  He asks himself.  
Then the action jumps forward, to Mina surrounded by dream probes.  Small cuts are slashed across her face, the screen walls are open to the walkways. Mina drops to her knees, succumbing to the hum of the probes, and then she smiles, and unexpectedly vanishes.  
Now he sees Mina, her back sucked to a wet cliff face, arms wide, a storm howling all around her.  She’s spotlit in probe light. Without warning she dives off the cliff, and she plummets into the mist.
“Did she just jump into the Mists of Disbelief?” Reve asks himself astounded. 
The air around Reve heaves and bristles. The action pulls him from his open mouthed shock, back to his own plan of escape. The darkness shuffles again, and he remembers the guard of Drifters huddled at the edge of the light around him.  
These Drifters have been disabled. Vials of dream mist have been self-ravaged into all of their necks, and orange goo is leaking. These Drifters are all so deep in dream that they may never return. Concentrated dreams stolen from the Night Mare, by Rose, expressly for Reve to use in this way, to buy him time for an escape.  
Reve puzzles Rose’s loyalty, for he knows with certainty that he’s done nothing to deserve it.  All that’s about to change.  He’s determined to become a different demon, one who’s held to a moral code. He’s not quite sure what that means, nor how difficult it might be when tested, but he’s determined to give it a real go.
Reve wriggles through the Drifter circle, a tall wall of mildewed towels.  The dreaming beasts cluck, they shuffle in absent circles, and then squijal back into the dream circle again.  
Reve crosses to the far side of the room with purpose, the bells and sirens weakening as he goes.  He stops at the wall, at the canvas of an ancient castle on a stormy night, slung low upon it.  
“Verity.” Reve says, and the castle becomes a swirl of brilliant colors. 
“What is the Gold Stone Girl?” Reve asks the screen, wondering why it’s never occurred to him to ask her about it before.
An official image of Rose appears on the screen.  Verity’s sultry voice supplies the narrative.  
“Rose is the fifth, in the era post Alma.”  The screen goes silent, and the image of a sullen Rose stares at him from the wall.
“Yes, but what else?”  He asks.  “Why do we single the girl out?  Why does my mother eat her?’
“All else is classified.” Verity replies. 
“Classified?”  He asks confused.  
“Classified.” She repeats. 
Reve slumps into a nearby throne, made of hide tied to bone, and he pouts.  
“Loser,” Verity says.  
“What?”  Reve asks in outrage and surprise.  “You’re the one without the information.  I thought you knew everything.”
“It’s not that I don’t know, it’s that I can’t tell you.  You disappoint me, Reve.  There’s always a way around a classification.”  Verity says.   
“Oh cut it out, and just tell me!”  He mopes.
“Think, numbskull,” Verity says.
He ponders.
“Show me the pre-collapse.”  He commands.
Verity’s screen swirls toward the past.

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